Eat here: Flavio Al Velavevodetto, Rome, Italy (Italian)

Flavio Al Velavevodetto
Via di Monte Testaccio 97, Rome
http://www.ristorantevelavevodetto.it/en/home

In Rome’s Testaccio district, the ex-garbage dump of the ancient Romans (literally, there’s a hill around the corner from here that we found while walking around to kill time before lunch that was made from broken Roman terracotta), where the tourists rarely venture, is a bowl of pasta that is the stuff of legends.

It’s a dish that’s just now gaining momentum and becoming trendy (god help us), and it’s so simple it sounds downright boring, made with only three ingredients: pasta, cheese and pepper. Seriously – that’s it. Well, it’s not, there’s a real art to it, and Elizabeth will explain it to you better than I can if you want to take a quick detour to her blog.

I knew we were eating cacio e pepe when we visited Rome, and there’s only one person I trusted to recommend the right place to eat it – and Elizabeth Minchilli didn’t let me down. Having seen a ridiculous number of bowls of this dish on her Instagram account in the year leading up to our trip, all from the same restaurant, it was decided we’d make the trip out to Testaccio to visit Flavio’s.

The restaurant itself is one of those you’d-miss-it-if-you-weren’t-looking-for-it kind of places. No big flashy signs out the front, no neon lights in the shape of pasta bowls, just a little gated courtyard with the name clearly printed above it.

We rolled in right on opening time, because we heard it got busy fast – it did. The place is surprisingly big inside, with several dining areas seperated by walls and corridors. The tables were laid with crisp white linen, and the staff gave the immediate impression of being a very well-oiled machine, to the point of being almost mechanical – I’m guessing the Roman regulars have a bit of a warmer welcome, though.

I knew what I wanted to try well before I saw the menu – cacio e pepe, obviously. A deep fried artichoke. And pasta carbonara. Oh, and a bottle of wine, because, when in Rome…

I’m used to my family’s artichokes, which are marinated in oil and herbs (and are very good), so a deep fried one was very different – and so, so good. The petals were like salty little artichoke chips, and the heart was still soft and sweet underneath all that crunchiness. Perfect starter, clearly, because every other table in the room had one, too.

Then came the pasta – the tonnarelli (like fat spaghetti) cacio e pepe did not disappoint. Perfectly al dente pasta smothered in cheese and pepper is a thing of beauty. Husband said it was the best bowl of pasta he’s ever eaten. Again, a clear winner, because every table seemed to have at least one bowl of this.

The other bowl of pasta I chose was rigatoni carbonara. This is one of my favourite meals, but I don’t order it at home, because most restaurants don’t know how to make it. Contrary to popular belief, carbonara is not made with cream; it’s made with eggs. So when restaurants make it with cream and call it “authentic Italian,” it makes my blood boil. But here, they make it right, with eggs. And guanciale (cured pork jowl, one of my favourite meaty things). And more cheese. And let me tell you, even though it may not look like much, that was the best bowl of pasta I’ve ever eaten (sorry, Nonna).

We washed it all down with what was left of the bottle of wine, used the contents of the complimentary bread basket to mop up what was left of the sauces, rolled out the front door and continued to talk about lunch for the next three days. If you’re only going to eat pasta at once place in Rome, make sure it’s at Flavio’s. And that’s coming from an Italian.

#TBT Through my eyes: Paris, London, New York & Rome

After Tuesday’s book recommendation, I thought I’d do a little Throwback Thursday post, and revisit the cities covered in the book through my eyes…

 

PARIS, 2013: Jardin des Tuileries

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LONDON, 2013: Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament

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NEW YORK, 2015: Brooklyn Bridge

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ROME, 2013: Castel Sant’Angelo

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Roman dining – one of the best meals of my life!

 

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I can’t even tell you how much I hate myself for not remembering what this place was called. I can’t believe I didn’t bother to write the name or address down, to take a photo of the little sign out the front, nothing… what an idiot! That said, my husband maintains that if we were to go back to Rome, he’d be able to remember how to get there… we found it on the walk back from the Vatican. It was pouring, and I mean really pouring rain, we were wet and hungry and needed to stop for warmth and food. Just as we were getting desperate, as fate would have it, this place appeared like the proverbial oasis in the dessert. We ambled in, discarding drenched coats, scarves and beanies, and settled in to what felt like the living room of a family member. That could be mostly because I’m Italian, and am accustomed to big family dinners. Whatever. This place was amazing.

The service was really fantastic, very attentive and helpful. Before we’d said a word, a basket of bread arrived, for which we were very grateful. We placed our orders and didn’t wait long at all for our lunch to arrive. First up came the Caprese salad of fresh tomatoes, basil and bocconcini cheese. My favourite! The wine was pretty darn good too!

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And next came the pasta. Husband had the pesto linguine you can see at the top of the picture below. I had the pasta at the bottom of the picture, which we both agree is the best pasta either of us have ever had to this day. Rigatoni with ricotta and eggplant. It was rich and creamy, and tasted like no other pasta I’ve ever had before. This was phenomenal. Even more amazing was how much husband loved it – he usually doesn’t like eggplant or ricotta. It was really unexpected for it to have had so much flavour and punch, but it was absolutely perfect. It’s a big call for a wog to name her best ever plate of pasta, but (sorry Nonna!!!) this was hands down “the one” for me.

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If ANYONE recognises this place, please, what is it called?!?!?!? I NEED TO GO BACK!!!!!

Eat here: D.O.C. Pizza & Mozzarella Bar, Melbourne (Italian)

D.O.C. Pizza & Mozzarella Bar, Melbourne
www.docgroup.net

I’m Italian, and proud of it. Yet, as you may have noticed, I rarely frequent Italian restaurants. Why? Because I find it really hard to find good, I mean really, authentically good Italian food. I know there are some beautiful Italian restaurants out there, but I’ve also grown up eating my family’s home cooking, both here and in Italy, so I know what it should taste like. And very rarely does anything live up to those standards. Good Italian food is simple. It’s very high quality ingredients, put together in a very simple way. It’s avoiding fancy cooking techniques and extra embellishments, so as not to take away from the amazing ingredients being used. So, when mum vouched for D.O.C., I knew it’d be worth a visit.

We finally got there for lunch last weekend, and in complete honesty, it was the best Italian meal I’ve had since actually being in Italy last year. Visiting their website, you immediately see D.O.C.s mission statement:

D.O.C. is real Italian eating and age old simplicity refreshed with contemporary flair. A celebration of heritage. A joy in sharing. Authentic, exuberant and outrageously Italian.

And that is exactly what we got. You can read a lot more about what they’re all about on their website, so I won’t waste your time regurgitating it all for you. I’ll let the pictures of our food do the talking.

First up, like the proper wog I am, was the salumi board with fior di latte cheese drizzled with a little olive oil ($24.90). I’ve had some pretty amazing cured meats, thanks to my grandparents who do a lot of it themselves, but this would have to have been one of the best meat boards I’ve ever had. The cheese was even better. Oh my goodness. Husband (now an honorary Italian) was half way through and already asking if we were free next weekend to come back.

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Next up was the pizza – resplendent with San Daniele prosciutto, buffalo mozzarella and San Marzano tomatoes, with the typical Italian drizzle of oil ($23.50). We both agreed, best pizza we’ve had outside of Italy. But seriously, would we have time to visit again before I flew off to Vietnam next weekend?? For food this good, you make time.

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We spent the meal talking about how much fun we’d had in Italy, Rome and Florence in particular the previous year. Being the insatiable wanderluster I am, I’ve already planned trips up to 2019 (I’m not kidding, I have a problem), with the next big one being back to Europe. I asked how he’d feel about hiring a car and driving around Tuscany for a week. Absolutely! How about moving to Rome for 6 months? It was up for debate before we started eating; we were ready to pack up the house that afternoon by the end of the meal. We felt like we were back in Italy for a while, over that meal. And it was amazing. There really aren’t many restaurants that can so effortlessly transport you around the world like that. If you’re in Melbourne and like me in that you want something real and authentic to eat, you’re going to love D.O.C. I really can’t praise it highly enough, and I really can’t wait to get back again.

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Il Foro Romano (The Roman Forum), Rome, Italy

You’re in the middle of Rome, a beautiful city with a big history. There are cars flying around the cobblestoned roads, people yelling and laughing, tourists stopping to take photographs and locals rushing about their every day business. You are literally in the middle of a city, when you stumble upon the remains of the Roman Forum, the excavated heart of the Roman Empire. This is where it all went down – from commerce to processions, prostitution to elections, criminal trials to business deals, and just about everything in between. The city’s most important structures were generally based around the Roman Forum, including the surviving Temple of Saturn, Temple of Castor and Pollux, Temple of Vesta and quite a few more.

But, you can take a history lesson any time you please, so let me show you why this is such a beautiful and important site. For me, it’s like being transported to another world. It feels surreal. You can feel in your bones how truly ancient and impressive a site it is now and once was.

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Through my eyes: Campo de’ Fiori, Rome, Italy

I believe that the only true way to get to know a new place is to eat what the locals eat, and visit their markets. Everywhere I travel to involves hitting up the local markets. Here’s a little glimpse into the Campo de’ Fiori market in Rome – it was a really cold morning, but that just made it even more beautiful!

 

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

 

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

 

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

 

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

 

Eat here: Pizzeria Lo Scricciolo, Rome, Italy

Pizzeria Lo Scricciolo
Via del Lavarote 41 00187, Rome, Italy

 

We’ve had a big day out, walking kilometre after kilometre, seeing Rome. We’ve been back to the hotel room for a hot shower, a 30 minute afternoon nap, a change into warmer clothes for night. I’ve grabbed my purse with our room key and a phone, and my camera, and we’ve hit the streets again. So, we’re walking down the cobble-stoned streets of Rome, it’s a little chilly, but we’re rugged up in scarves and coats and beanies.

Then it hits us. We haven’t eaten in a while. Crap, we’re hungry. It hits us like a ton of bricks, if we don’t stop walking and eat immediately, something bad is going to happen!!!! Luckily, we’re just coming up to the Trevi Fountain – we’d seen it earlier in the day, but I told husband it really comes into it’s own at night, and we had to go back again! Luckily, it was his first visit, my second, and I had the advantage of speaking Italian, so I definitely had the advantage of guiding him around to the things I wanted to do (also, luckily, we’re generally on the same wave-length when travelling, so he had no complaints!).

At our moment of desperate hunger, we saw this sign hanging on a little building. Sounded good to us!

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

So, in we went! It’s funny, we had the same welcome in every establishment we visited in Italy. We’d first be stared up and down, a barely discernible roll of the eyes, you could almost hear the “ehhh, tourists… great.” That look that all locals give tourists, that real mehh kinda feel you get from them, like they are appreciative to have your business but also a little resentful that you’re in their city, turned to shock, sometimes even embarrassment (especially if words were muttered under their breath or to their colleagues and companions) when I asked for a table for two in perfect Italian. Then, they seemed to be confused – I can speak Italian without a particularly noticeable Aussie accent, I can form my words well and use correct sentence structure. I was raised by four Italian grandparents who didn’t speak a heap of English, after all.

We loved this, it went on all over Italy, and it never got any less entertaining. Husband’s highlights were when people were talking about us in Italian, assuming we were dumb old tourists who couldn’t understand, and he’d elbow and goad me into saying something very pleasant and polite, maybe asking them a question, in their native tongue.

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

Anyway, after that, once they got over their surprise, we were like long-lost kin and welcomed to the family! We were seated towards the front of the restaurant, where we could look out onto the street and do some serious people watching (one of my favourite pass times in a big city). It was warm, homely, smelt amazing, and reminded me of sitting at my Nonna and Nonno’s house at home after they’d made pizzas fresh out of their pizza oven, right down to the plates on the wall and the fruit bowl on the counter. We took off our coats and scarves, and ordered a wine for me, a beer for husband, and some pizza…

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

I guess we were pretty lucky that we stopped in early (around 5.30pm), as everything was just rolling out fresh. And you could really tell – the crust was still crispy on the bottom, and the toppings were still hot from the oven. It’s not 5 star, it’s nothing absurdly special, but it was perfect for us – a few slices of pizza on our way through to more exploring.

I would definitely recommend a stop here if you’re in Rome and doing much the same – that 5.30 – 6.30pm time slot is way too early for most people to have dinner, but it’s a perfect stop if you’re planning to move on to something else later, a really great pre-dinner drink and slice option! It was cheap too, which is always a bonus is a big city like Rome!

 

Oh, and the best part? We walked out to this…. perfect  : )

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014